“The show has a radical quality simply because it arrives in a television landscape with few Asian characters,” wrote New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum. “… Simply watching people of color having a private conversation, one that’s not primarily about white people, is a huge deal. It changes who the joke is on.”
But for Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese-Chinese-American chef and author of the memoir on which the show is (very loosely) based, the mere presence of Asian American characters doesn’t mean the show is doing much to challenge TV’s status quo.
“For the record, I don’t watch ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ on ABC,” he tweeted Wednesday. “I’m happy people of color are able to see a reflection of themselves through ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ … but I don’t recognize it.”
He followed with a string of criticisms of the show, including that it perpetuates Asian stereotypes and misrepresents his life.
“Why do sitcoms have to avoid real issues and instead appropriate the symptoms of our problems for entertainment? I don’t accept this,” he wrote.
It’s not the first time Huang has criticized the technicolor, ABC-version of his much-darker memoir. Even before its premiere, he expressed frustration with the sitcom.
“My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots and the emasculated Asian male,” he wrote in an essay for New York Magazine in January. “This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian America. The network won’t take that gamble right now.”
But he held out hope for the show, which he saw as an incremental improvement in an industry that hadn’t seen an Asian American protagonist since Margaret Cho’s “All American Girl” was canceled after 19 episodes.
“Culturally, we are in an ice age,” he told the New York Times Magazine in February. “We don’t even have fire. We don’t even have the wheel. If this can be the first wheel, maybe others can make three more.”
In his tweets, Huang said he stood behind the pilot but has been disappointed by the episodes that followed it. The show glosses over the complicated, subversive and highly-specific moments from his childhood that made Huang’s memoir so well-received.
Louis, TV-Eddie’s father, is hapless and good-natured — very different from Huang’s own portrayal of his father, who was abusive toward him and his siblings.
“My dad, he’s a bad dude. You know, like, not in a bad way but he definitely was a very, very strong male presence in my life,” he told NPR in 2013. “He was a man’s man, and he instilled a lot of those old-school masculine values in me — some of them I reject and some of them I accept.”
Huang calls his father a “stereotype-breaker,” someone who defies media portrayals of Asian men as “nerdy” or “emasculated.” But he said Louis reinforces the cliché he had worked so hard to subvert.
Huang also took issue with the show’s depiction of his passion for hip-hop and black culture, where he sought refuge from his father’s abuse and the alienating experience of being the son of immigrants in suburban America.
“It’s not a game. That music meant something to me,” he tweeted.
Huang’s disappointment with the show was preempted months ago, when reporter Wesley Yang — who spent a week interviewing him about his “tortured ambivalence” toward the ABC adaptation of his life — asked, “What did you expect?”
“What did I expect?” Huang responded at the time. “I expected I could change things.”
Later he told Yang he’d been naive.
“Network television wasn’t what I thought it was,” he said.